Comment of the Day: David Cloutier: The Economist as...?: The Public Square and Economists: "This is a wonderful piece...

...As an ethicist interested in economics, I applaud the serious engagement with MacIntyre. While it is hard in a blog comment to capture this, I think MacIntyre's objections to economics/materialism have three elements that are overlooked here:

  1. The entire beginning part of After Virtue is dedicated to the claim not simply that the manager is agnostic about ends, but also that the claim about expertise in means is actually flimsy. MacIntyre wrote serious articles pre-After-Virtue in which he is critical of social science in general. While I would be willing to say that MacIntyre perhaps overstates these criticisms, the dispute over debt-to-GDP (and many other related elements of the financial crisis) suggest that it is perhaps easy for economists to claim to know more about means than they actually know.

  2. Your #2 above is correct, and I think MacIntyre would claim (I certainly would) that there isn't really a moral neutrality possible in speaking about "good economic outcomes".

  3. But the real reason MacIntyre thinks this is because of the fact that capitalism may produce lots of goods and services, but it inevitably produces degraded human beings and human societies. Capitalism turns social practices away from goods internal to the practice in favor of external goods such as money, fame, and power. Again, it may be that MacIntyre overstates this claim - certainly fod goods and services where there are multiple competitors and lots of information and fairly easy switching, the market may also encourage genuine excellence and quality, and thus may incentivize both workers and owners to seek excellence, rather than just seeking money. But in many cases, it seems to MacIntyre (and to me) that you produce lots of goods, but bad people who lack virtue. You produce vicious (=vice) rich people who are not really skilled (they may even run for president), you produce vicious managers who are tyrannized by stock prices and the success ladder, and you produce vicious workers who work in crappy, unrewarding, unstable jobs. And all of this then degrades the polis. The problem with capitalism becomes bad work. Keynes wanted more leisure. MacIntyre wants communities where people do good work.

This is a great piece, Dr. DeLong. I am glad to see economists making these connections.